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Newell v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 28, 2014

COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO et al., Defendants.


GONZALO P. CURIEL, District Judge.


Before the Court in this civil-rights case is defendants County of San Diego ("County") and Elizabeth Palmer's ("Palmer") (both, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion"). (ECF No. 36.) Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendants' Motion, (ECF No. 39), and Defendants have filed a reply, (ECF No. 41).[1] On March 14, 2014, the Court held a hearing on Defendants' Motion, at which counsel for Plaintiff and Defendants appeared. (ECF No. 43.) At the hearing, the Court invited the parties to file supplemental briefing, which they did. (ECF Nos. 44, 45, 47.) Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, and for the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT Defendants' Motion.


In June 2012, Plaintiff filed this case in the San Diego Superior Court, asserting causes of action for: (1) violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) conspiracy; (3) negligent hiring, retention and supervision/unlawful policy, custom or habit; (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (5) false arrest. (ECF No. 1-1.) Defendants removed the action to federal court in July 2012, (ECF No. 1), and discovery concluded in August 2013, (ECF No. 15).

Plaintiffs claims arise from an incident that occurred in the parking lot of the Chula Vista branch of the San Diego Superior Court. A portion of the parking lot is enclosed with a fence. This fenced-off portion of the parking lot, which ordinarily holds law-enforcement and courthouse-employee vehicles, is not open to the public. The fenced-off portion has at least two entry points: a vehicle entrance, which is sometimes left open during the day for the ingress and egress of authorized vehicles, and a pedestrian entrance, which is approximately 100 to 150 feet away from the vehicle entrance and which is secured with a keypad lock.

Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on November 29, 2011, Palmer, a San Diego County Sheriff's Department sergeant in charge of security at the Chula Vista courthouse, was leaving work dressed in plain clothes and driving her personal vehicle when she observed Plaintiff pull into the public portion of the courthouse parking lot.

Driving quickly through the parking lot, Plaintiff parked his truck in a disabled space next to the pedestrian entrance to the private portion of the parking lot. It is unclear whether a disabled placard was displayed in or on Plaintiff's truck. Plaintiff does not dispute that he was parked at an angle across the space, but Plaintiff does dispute Palmer's assertion that his truck was parked outside the space's lines. Plaintiff, a retired San Diego Police Department ("SDPD") officer, asserts he went to the parking lot to look at law-enforcement vehicles that he believed he could purchase for a private security company that he wanted to start.

After parking, Plaintiff remained in his truck for a short time then got out to look at the law-enforcement vehicles inside the fenced-off portion of the lot. Palmer claims Plaintiff walked quickly toward the pedestrian gate, where he unsuccessfully tried several times to punch in a code on the keypad lock. Palmer claims, when Plaintiff was unable to open the keypad lock, he leaned over the fence and began photographing the vehicles inside the private portion of the lot. Palmer further asserts that, after taking the photographs, Plaintiff looked around as if to see if anybody was watching.[3] Plaintiff disputes these facts, claiming he never attempted to open the pedestrian gate and that, while he did take two pictures of a law-enforcement vehicle inside the private portion of the lot, he did not lean over the fence.[4]

Plaintiff asserts that, after he took the two photographs, he began walking toward a maintenance area to ask about the vehicles in the private portion of the lot. Plaintiff asserts it was around this time that he noticed Palmer in her vehicle coming toward him. Plaintiff began walking back to his truck.

Palmer drove her vehicle toward Plaintiff and parked it behind Plaintiff's truck. Plaintiff claims that, around this time, Palmer approached Plaintiff, asked him what he was doing, grabbed his phone and keys from his hands, then backed up to stand behind the driver's door of her vehicle. Palmer claims she did not approach Plaintiff before asking him what he was doing, but instead stood behind the driver's door of her vehicle out of safety concerns. Palmer asserts Plaintiff responded by saying, "San Diego P.D., I got this." (ECF No. 36-2, Palmer Decl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff asserts he responded by saying, several times, "I'm a retired San Diego police officer." (ECF No. 39-2 at 8.)

Palmer then identified herself as a sheriff's sergeant before instructing Plaintiff to sit on his bumper, which he did. Palmer called for backup, and two sheriff's deputies arrived on scene a few minutes later.

Palmer asked Plaintiff for identification, which Plaintiff said was on the front seat of his truck. Palmer asserts Plaintiff consented to her going into his truck to get his identification. One of the deputies at the scene claims he heard Plaintiff give Palmer such consent. Plaintiff denies giving Palmer such consent. Either way, Palmer went into Plaintiff's truck and took out his wallet. Plaintiff asserts Palmer then began taking everything out of his wallet and laying its contents on the bed of Plaintiff's truck.

After discovering Plaintiff's SDPD badge, Palmer called SDPD to verify that Plaintiff was in fact a retired SDPD officer. SDPD verified Plaintiff's account. Palmer also called the Chula Vista Police Department ("CVPD"), which has jurisdiction over the area in which the courthouse is located, and asked for a unit to be sent to the courthouse to investigate. The CVPD responded that it would send a unit but did not know how long that would take.

Palmer and the deputies then questioned Plaintiff about why he was there. Plaintiff explained he was there because he had heard he could buy used law-enforcement vehicles at the courthouse. Palmer and the deputies claim Plaintiff's story changed as he was asked questions, but Plaintiff claims he was not able to speak clearly because Palmer kept telling him to shut up and that he was lying.

Palmer then asserts she asked Plaintiff if he had any paperwork for his truck and that Plaintiff responded that his registration was in the glove box. Palmer claims she asked for and received consent to get Plaintiff's paperwork from the glove box. Palmer also claims she asked for and received consent to "look[] around the inside of the truck." Plaintiff denies that he consented to Palmer retrieving his registration or otherwise searching his vehicle.

In searching through the papers and other effects in Plaintiff's truck, Palmer did not find any registration paperwork. Palmer did, however, find an unopened envelope from the Social Security Administration addressed to a "male with a Middle Eastern last name."[5]

Palmer claims she then called the Sheriff's Communication Center to run a check on Plaintiff's license and registration. Palmer asserts she received word that Plaintiff's license was suspended and therefore confiscated Plaintiff's license. Plaintiff disputes that his license was suspended. Plaintiff does not dispute, however, that his registration expired in 2009 or that his license plate bore a 2011 registration tag. Although, Plaintiff asserts he did not know how or why there was a 2011 registration tag on his license plate.

Palmer called the CVPD again to determine how long it would be before a unit arrived. CVPD again responded that it did not know how long it would take. Palmer therefore decided to release Plaintiff if he promised to fix his license and registration problems the next day. Plaintiff promised to do so. One of the deputies also had Plaintiff sign a form stating he had been notified that his license was suspended. Palmer then allowed Plaintiff to call for a ride home.

It took approximately thirty minutes for Plaintiff's girlfriend and her son to arrive. Once Plaintiff's girlfriend and her son arrived, the deputies asked to see their drivers licenses, which the deputies ran through the National Criminal Information Center. Plaintiff asserts this took an additional twenty to thirty minutes.

Palmer asserts Plaintiff was detained for a total of approximately 30-35 minutes. Plaintiff asserts he was ...

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